How to Search for Black History Month in Chronicling America

Happy Black History Month!

In honor of this special month, let’s find out how to search for Black History in our Maryland newspapers in Chronicling America!

The voice of labor. (Cumberland, Md.), 16 Jan. 1941. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060375/1941-01-16/ed-1/seq-3/>

For some background information, Black History Month was once called “Negro History Week,” coined by historian Carter G. Woodson. It started in 1926, during the second week of February and was celebrated by schools and communities all over. In light of the Civil Rights movement and with better awareness of Black History altogether, it became Black History Month at several colleges. However, it wasn’t until President Gerald Ford officially recognized it as so in 1976. Since then, every U.S president recognizes Black History Month. (https://www.loc.gov/law/help/commemorative-observations/african-american.php)

It is possible that many people aren’t really sure where to start when it comes to searching for Black History in Chronicling America, in Maryland newspapers at that. Right now, “Black History Month” or “Negro History Week” are not found in our Maryland issues, so we have to define our searches a little more. Here’s some starting tips to help with that:

Search Important Topics

One of the best starting points is searching by topic. Sometimes, you might not know where to start or, you might not actually have a topic yet. The Library of Congress has a section called “Topics in Chronicling America” in their Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room where you can find what you need by searching topics that interest you. You can search:

  • Alphabetical list
  • By subject category
  • By date range
Sampling of African-American History on “Topics by Subject” page 

When searching Black History, the subject category is the best tool because on the page, there is a section dedicated to African-American History, a perfect starting point for a topic. When you click on one of the topics, you can read a brief introduction of it with an attached timeline. Then click “Read more about it!” to get search strategies, such as different terms, to help narrow down the topic and receive a sampling of newspaper articles. Below is an example of one of the topics, Sissieretta Jones

Sampling of Sissieretta Jones’ Topic Page in Chronicling America

There are also introduction pages with timelines of each topic! Here’s an example of Sissieretta Jones’ timeline on her page:

Sampling of Sissieretta Jones’ Timeline

Date Ranges

Did you search for a topic and came up with thousands and thousands of search results? Try narrowing your results with the use of the “date range” tool. This function helps to pinpoint where your exact topic is written in the newspapers. If you wanted to know more about the Tuskegee Institute, founded in the late 1870s, search for the “Tuskegee Institute” phrase and don’t forget to change the date range; you’ll get articles like this:

The midland journal. (Rising Sun, Md.), 09 June 1905. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn89060136/1905-06-09/ed-1/seq-3/&gt;

Looking for Black History in these Maryland newspapers is a bit difficult and sometimes your topic of interest was not covered by the included titles. For instance, Harriet Tubman, one of the most important people in American history is mentioned only three times in the Maryland newspapers even though she was born in Maryland. However, there are ways to expand your search and find other topics using these starting tips. 

If you would like to learn more, go to Chronicling America and start your searching journey! Be sure to follow us (@HistoricMDNews) on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and find out more about Black History in the Maryland newspapers.

This post is part of a monthly guest blog post series featuring the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project and Chronicling America. The Historic Maryland Newspapers Project at University of Maryland Libraries is the Maryland state awardee of the National Digital Newspaper Program. National Endowment for the Humanities and Library of Congress developed this program for state partners to digitize historic newspapers from across the country and make them freely accessible in the Chronicling America newspaper database.

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Alexis Woolford, a MLIS student in the College of Information Studies, is a student assistant for the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project and the Digital Conversion and Media Reformatting Department of the Libraries.

One thought on “How to Search for Black History Month in Chronicling America

  1. Pingback: Stew of the Month, February/March 2021

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